CASA volunteers’ life experiences help foster children

Steve Hill, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) supervisor, says that becoming a CASA volunteer is a big job – but a very important one.

When a child is placed in foster care due to suffering neglect or abuse at home, the court appoints a special advocate to represent the minor child or children.

The CASA volunteer receives special training for the job. Senior citizens who are CASA volunteers bring a lifetime of experience with them, and they take it very seriously, Hill said.

“They are like a party to the case. They get all the information, visit the child and give extra attention to the cases,” said Hill, adding that the overloaded system benefits from the advocates because they can be the eyes and ears for the court.

“They make sure the children’s needs are being taken care of, such as their dental, medical and school issues,” he said.

CASA volunteers make recommendations to the court as to what should happen to the children. They also make recommendations to service providers working with the parents who are receiving treatment for a variety of issues before being reunited with their children.

“They write reports to the court on what they think should happen. It is a huge responsibility,” said Hill, adding that the court makes the ultimate decisions in all cases.

A judge in the 1970s created the CASA program. “He was tired of hearing all the cookie-cutter plans and wanted kids to have individualized attention,” Hill said.

According to Hill, the system relies heavily on the volunteers. The goal is always to reunite children with their parents, and Hill said most of the time that does happen. He added that a typical case takes about two years to complete.

Bob Estrada, who lives in Gig Hargor, has been a CASA volunteer for two years.

“I got into it because I saw the advertisement about wanting individuals to be advocates for children, and since my wife and I are foster parents for infants, we decided that this would be an extension to what I was already doing,” he said.

Estrada said one of his jobs is to make sure parents do what they need to do in order to get their children back. He and other volunteers make sure the foster parents are following through with any medical and dental issues, as well as other important appointments.

“You have to have a heart for the children and do the best you can, and you have to remember that you are not the foster parents. You can’t be taking children to appointments. You have to remember your boundaries as a CASA volunteer,” Estrada said.

Emily Taylor has been a CASA volunteer for two years and said it’s all about teaching.

“It is a calling more than anything. I gain a sense that I am helping vulnerable people in our community and I am the voice for foster children,” she said.

Carrie Appling, volunteer coordinator, said CASA is extremely important to the community.

“We do have staff that take caseloads, but they have 80 to 100 cases a year, and having advocates from the community makes sure that we stay fresh and pay attention to what each child needs,” she said.

Appling said the best-case scenario is for the court to have a volunteer on each case who knows the child and family intimately and meets regularly with the child and whoever they are placed with to make sure that the court is working for the best outcome.

“The volunteers help by giving kids the time and attention that is needed to make sure that the whole system is aware of what is happening in that child’s life and that the court is meeting each child’s needs,” Appling said.

Volunteers are passionate about their cases and the children involved.

“I plan to keep doing this for as long as I can,” said Taylor.

Anyone interested in becoming a CASA volunteer should contact Volunteer Coordinator Carrie Appling at 253-798-3837.